By Daniel Gross | Daily Ticker – Fri, Mar 16, 2012 7:52 AM EDT
Another round (or two) of quantitative easing from the Federal Reserve, muted growth and an end to the 30-year bull run in government bonds.
That's what Bill Gross, one of the largest bond investors in the world, sees for the U.S. economy in the coming year. Gross is co-chief investment officer of PIMCO, the giant asset managers whose Total Return Fund is the largest bond mutual fund with current assets of about $250 billion.
Gross says long-term interest rates have been rising in recent weeks (here's a chart of the 10-year U.S. bond) for two principal reasons. "Yes, inflation is rearing its head. We're seeing that in oil prices and other commodities, and we're seeing it in the numbers," he said. The consumer price index has risen 2.9% in the past 12 months. In addition, Gross says, the Federal Reserve's "Operation Twist" is scheduled to end in a few months. Under this plan, the Fed sold short-term debt and purchased long-term bonds in an effort to keep longer-term interest rates lower. At its meeting earlier this week, the Fed indicated that it didn't plan to extend the operation. "Yields have risen based upon the possibility that the Fed simply stops buying long-term bonds," he said. "If they do that, the question becomes, who is left?"
Despite the Fed's communiqué earlier this week, Gross doesn't believe the central bank's interventions in the bond markets are over. In two rounds of quantitative easing (QE), the Federal Reserve printed money to buy hundreds of billions of dollars of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities. "I believe there will be a QE3, and perhaps a QE4," he said. Why? In the past few years, whenever central banks have stopped or paused their quantitative easing efforts, "stock prices have fallen and economies have slowed." The globe's private economies simply aren't sufficiently strong enough to support robust growth, and the world's central banks aren't willing to stand by and watch. "That's not a policy recommendation, it's simply a realization that the substitution of central bank monetary purchases will continue for a long time, as long as they [central banks] try to support private economies on a global basis," Gross said.